Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Illuminations and Elucidations on: The Hellins Lecture

II.“The more things change the more they stay the same.”

The title of this segment is taken from a song that is sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. The name of the tune is 75 Septembers. It could just as easily have been "been there done that."

The Reverend Gregory Cameron, in his Hellins Lecture, (July 15, 2008) talks about the beginnings of the adoption of the Compass Rose and how it has come to symbolize the Anglican Communion. Some now say that the Compass Rose is spinning out of control at this very moment.

“Today, most commentators have come to the conclusion that the needle of the Compass Rose, shaken from its former stability, is spinning out of control, restless and unsure of where it will find its rest. As the front page of the London Times was recently able to proclaim confidently:

‘Anglican Church in meltdown over gays and women.’”

We need to dwell on this point since this point is one of the key reasons why Mr. John David Schofield, former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin attempted to move, lock stock and diocese to the Southern Cone. This move pits Evangelical against every other group within the Episcopal Church. Even now, our parish in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is being raided by a former Episcopal priest for parishioners to attend his NEW and up and coming Southern Cone mission by telling parishioners that we are blessing same sex unions and/or performing same sex marriage ceremonies. None of this is true, yet this issue seems to rip at the very fabric of our ability to come together and pass the peace and share the Eucharistic feast.

In the Episcopal Church of the United States of America during the mid-1800’s there were several significant issues that the Episcopal Church was threatened by. The one we will dwell on for today is the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement threatened to split the Episcopal Church into Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical lines. It began in 1843 (at least in earnest) . The movement’s primary author was none other than John Henry Newman. According to Reverend Manross in A History of the American Episcopal Church, “Newman was evidently moving towards the theory of development in religious belief which was to become the theme of one of his best-known works, and this led him into a gradual increasing emphasis upon the tradition of the Catholic Church until he finally reached the conclusion that the Bible could properly be interpreted only in light of this tradition.” This was tract ninety and this was the tract that sent the Evangelical group in the Church “over the edge.” Newman stated that the Catholic position developed over the last 89 tracts was sanctioned by the 39 Articles of Faith. When the Oxford Movement spread to America the General Theological Seminary became the hot bed of this movement. (Should we say duh?).

But one of the new ideas of all this “who shot John business” in the 1850s was the creation and use of a canon that allows for the suspension and ultimately the deposition of a bishop. While that is interesting it is not the real point. Perhaps the most pertinent point of interest that came out of all this was the Muhlenberg Memorial of 1853. A middle of the road bishop drafted a statement that evolved a system called “Evangelical Catholicism”. There were supporters and detractors of this position and in the end time took it toll. Yes, Newman left, yes there were some deposed bishops, yes the term Liberal came into use to describe the Oxford Movement, but while nothing was definitively settled many of the good things of the movement were adopted and the Episcopal Church in the United States grew stronger and better and moved on to the next controversy.

Back to the words of Greg Cameron, “We must remember that the Anglican Church itself is something of an accidental creation. … We can have little doubt that Archbishop Cranmer, if he had ever contemplated the future of the Church whose reform he undertook, would undoubtedly have been shocked, if not totally incredulous, of the reality of its inheritance.”

“Oh what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.
Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.”

Bells of Rhymney
Pete Seeger

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Fred, I'm looking forward to the next installment. As you know, I too started on a historical quest to help find answers to our current divisions. Nothing new, really, under God's sun.

Of course, I had no idea that I would move from church history in Virginia, to TEC generally, and then decide to go back to early Christianity. It teaches you something important. We will change, and Christianity survives because of the two great commandments (and despite our human flaws).